Universiteit Leiden

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LIBC Colloquium

Wednesday 2 February 2022
Pieter de la Courtgebouw, 5A23 & via Zoom

Differences in automatic emotion processing mechanisms in school-aged boys with and without autism


As social beings, we often linger in a social environment in which we interact with others. However, these social interactions are not automatically successful and they require social sensitivity and social cognition. One of the key components of social cognition is facial emotion processing. For many individuals with autism, who are characterized by difficulties in social communication and interaction, facial emotion processing is a daily struggle. Yet, the plethora of behavioral studies on facial emotion processing in individuals with and without autism yields mixed and inconsistent results. To overcome influences of mechanisms beyond facial emotion processing per se (e.g. compensatory mechanisms), a series of implicit measures was applied to gain more insight in the underlying automatic emotion processing mechanisms that might account for difficulties in facial emotion processing in autism. Firstly, by combining fast periodic visual stimulation with frequency-tagging EEG, the individual neural sensitivity for emotional faces could be quantified rapidly and objectively. I will discuss the basic principles of this approach and I will present the findings that suggest a rather emotion-specific reduced neural sensitivity in boys with autism. The promising classification results of these significant amplitude differences between both groups also demonstrate the potential of this approach to serve as a biomarker for socio-communicative deficits. Furthermore, difficulties in emotion processing may also occur when one fails to inspect the most relevant facial cues, or when spontaneous facial mimicry is absent. Therefore, eye gaze patterns and spontaneous facial mimicry of boys with and without autism were simultaneously recorded during an explicit expression recognition task. I will show that a slightly less exploratory face scanning strategy in boys with autism does not imply less efficient emotional information processing. The current findings suggest that similar behavioral outcomes might originate from different underlying automatic emotion processing mechanisms in school-aged boys with and without autism.

If you would like to attend this lecture via zoom please register via e-mail to

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